Conversation Before Dawn
Kaidan snapped awake, adrenaline washing over him. He'd clearly heard the sound of a gun's safety clicking off, a simple sound that in the otherwise silent bedroom had triggered his soldier instincts.
There was movement on the other side of the bed. Kaidan was on his side, in the exact position he'd fallen asleep, arms now empty where Shepard had been. She was sitting up, back ramrod straight, gun in her hand.
Kaidan instinctively flared and mirrored her, scanning the dusky room for sign of the intrusion. He trusted her implicitly, if she thought there might be danger, he'd check the entire house over before-
It took him a moment to realise, but as soon as he'd moved, she had aimed the gun at him.
He froze where he was, an uncomfortable half-sitting pose kept up mostly by his abs.
"It's okay Shepard, it's just me." A beat. "Kaidan." he added, just in case. She had a lot of different nightmares, sometimes her confusion was bad enough to fail to recognise him. She was breathing heavily, and erratically, but the gun was steady on him. He briefly considered raising a barrier really quickly and hope it would be good enough to stop the shot at this short range, but dismissed the thought. The action itself might just as well trigger her shooting. He let his biotics temper down.
She didn't move. Drew a breath to speak, then another before finally saying, "Prove it."
Kaidan ran her voice over in his head. She could speak with a commanding tone no matter what her mental state was, but he was good at picking out the undertones. This one was nearly pleading. Whatever personal hell she was caught up in this time, she was, on some level, aware of her own altered mental state.
Kaidan decided, not for the first time, to drag her to a psychologist. And not take no for an answer this time.
"On the Normandy, the first one, I upgraded your omni-tool's security. You gave me a lemon-flavoured energy bar as thanks." He remembered eating it after a particularly exhausting battle with a Geth armature, Shepard patting his shoulder for the good job. Hopefully, she remembered it too.
At least, she was considering it. It had what she wanted – something they would know, that wouldn't be in any of the records. Last time, he hadn't been sure what to tell her, and simply giving her his name and ID had been entirely unproductive. Kaidan learned and adapted.
"Kaidan." Emotions flickered across her face and body. Certainty, then uncertainty again. Relaxing and dropping her arm, then raising it back up, supporting the gun in both hands. Trigger-finger fidgeting. "No." Her face contorted to pain, and she blinked heavily. "No. Tell me... Tell me something I don't know."
Kaidan racked his brain. The last of the sleep-fogginess was gone by now. There was a low ray of sun shining in through the window, but this far north in the summer, that meant nothing, it was still middle of the night.
Shepard didn't trust herself. Asking him to tell her something she remembered was dismissed because she thought she was compromised. Asking him to tell her something she didn't know would supposedly let her analyse the information and decide its authenticity based on the here-now and her understanding of him.
Problem was, she'd then start doubting her own conclusion. And then... well, Kaidan had a few worst case scenarios thought out.
"Okay, Shepard." He said slowly. "I'm going to think up something to tell you, but I only just woke up, so it's going to take me a moment." He carefully gauged her reaction.
She seemed to find it reasonable. She nodded, maybe just as much to herself as to him.
He continued talking, keeping his voice still slow. She told him she loved his voice. He hated using it to manipulate her, but she'd never forgive herself for shooting at him, fatal or not. "So while I do that, lets- lets trade, okay? I'm going to lie back down," his abs were starting to complain for real, "and think up something to tell you. And you put the safety back on the gun. How's that?"
She shivered and let go of a heartbroken, shaky sigh. Her hands were clutching the gun still trained directly on him. "Kaidan. I don't know... I don't..."
He strengthened his voice just a touch, without raising his volume. "Safety on, Shepard. It's going to be okay."
The moment stretched, and then she sagged minutely and flicked the safety on in one single practiced move. Kaidan let himself sink back into the bed and breathed out. "Thank you, Shepard." She was watching him like a hawk, looking unsure and more anguished by the moment. "Okay, something you don't know." He considered another memory, then dismissed that too. Too easy for her to draw the conclusion something was wrong with her. Which it was, but adding to the problem wouldn't help. So he cast about for some random fact, something typically Kaidan-ish. Textbook stuff helpfully popped into his head. "The largest flying pterosaurids could stay aloft for 12 hours at a time and had a flight range of several hundred kilometers."
There was a quirk on her lips. It might have been the beginnings of a smile. He smiled back, encouragingly. She lowered the gun and swayed. Then suddenly her throat constricted with a pained gasp. She flung herself off the bed and dashed through the room, smashing the door open. He was following her a moment later, automatic lights coming on in the bathroom as she bent over the toilet-bowl, retching. The gun was on the floor in the hallway.
"Shepard." He made sure she heard him, making his steps a little extra heavy when he entered the bathroom and knelt next to her, collecting her hair carefully. She was dry-heaving, but just in case. "It's alright. I wasn't hurt, and I'm not angry."
She was shaking her head, her whole body shivering. Protests that she couldn't manage to voice with all the emotions going through her.
"It's okay. Take your time." He settled down on the cold tiles, one hand in her hair, the other stroking her arm.
They stayed like that for what felt like hours, her breathing between her stomach's clenches, him trying to respect her privacy while still sharing his presence with her. Kaidan's logic-oriented mind judged it closer to about fifteen minutes when Shepard's stomach finally relented without tossing anything up. She sank backwards limblessly, and let herself be pulled into an embrace, all resistance gone.
It was a nice moment sharing body warmth, against the sea of despair.
Eventually, she drew a shaky-but-recovering breath. "I'm so sorry, Kaidan. I-"
He interrupted her by squeezing her, not too hard, but not gently either. "You have post traumatic stress disorder. A bad case of it." And unless he missed his mark, a few other things lurking in her psyche, but he didn't have the training to judge that accurately, and he wasn't about to bring it up without support. "You need to see a psychologist."
"No." Shepard shook her head, and tried to rise, but he had his arms around her and didn't intend to let her go just yet.
"Let go." Her voice turned cold, and she pushed harder against his hold. She didn't control her leverage though, gravity did most of the work to keep her in his arms.
"Not just yet." Only partially because he worried she might stumble in the hall, or pick up the gun again, or run off outdoors. Mostly because he was tired and sleepy and angry and hurt and it had been a nice moment, holding her and he needed to make her understand.
He wrapped his arms around her as soon as she stopped her half-effective struggling. Her head found its way back onto his shoulder, and she let out another sorrow-shaken sigh. "I'm sorry."
"I know you are." He kissed her forehead. "But Shepard. You almost shot me tonight." She winced, and he touched her chin with his hand. "I mean it when I say I'm not angry, and I'm not leaving. But I also don't want to be on the wrong end of your gun again, and I know you don't want that either."
She was nodding, her breathing finally levelling out some. He chanced a kiss full on her lips, and was relieved that she responded. It was a simple kiss, a short moment of lips to lips, tame by comparison to their usual passion, but no less real or important.
"I'm sorry, Kaidan." She whispered again.
"I believe you." he replied easily, and squeezed her again. Her calm was returning. A bit bruised, perhaps, but there. He drew a breath. This was as good a time as any. "There's something I want you to do." He worked his hands free of their full-body contact hug and activated his omni-tool, easily navigating to the document he'd prepared nearly two weeks ago, but not felt he had the opportunity to talk about.
"What's that?" She was scanning it, reading sideways slowing her down a bit.
"It's a document to grant me the right to make medical and healthcare decisions for you. Including," he spelled it out, not liking the way his voice turned emotionally detached, but his conscience wouldn't let him skip the details, "the right to submit you to care against your will, if I judge it to be in your best interest."
He braced himself for the incoming explosion, fully expecting beating fists and raging fury.
Her breathing stopped, her muscles tensed.
"If I don't sign this, what are you going to do? Leave?" She accused.
He dragged before answering. It would be so easy to say 'yes', to have that bit of leverage on her, making getting her to sign so much easier.
But when it came down to it, he wasn't an ass.
"No. I won't leave if you don't sign. But it hurts to see you like this, and you're not going to get better without help. I can't give you what you need, not on my own. But I can make sure you get it." He squeezed her with his arm that wasn't holding the omni-tool up.
Shepard's rage dissipated, he felt her relax again. A moment passed, then she keyed the document to continue scrolling. She read it all the way down to the end, where it prompted her for her signature. A few moments passed. She'd stopped breathing again.
Concerned, he touched her face again, and she startled.
"Kaidan... What are you going to do to me?"
Well, at least it wasn't outright rejection.
"My first step? I'm going to find a SAM-approved psychologist who has the necessary security rating to actually talk to you properly." Those had been in short supply even before the war.
Shepard actually chuckled at that. "Good luck?"
"Thanks, I think I'll need it." He placed a kiss on her temple. "Then, once the psychologist has figured out what's going on in your head, there'll be treatment. Probably meds, definitely therapy."
Sounded so easy, in theory.
"I don't want to live without you." She said, pushing his arm with the omni-tool away. He used that hand to take one of hers.
"That's good, because I have no intention of leaving. And I'll keep saying that as often as I have to if it'll help you." He considered briefly making a recording of it, to play from her omni-tool once every couple of hours.
"Kaidan." She twisted around and slid into his lap properly, one leg on either side of him, so they were face to face. "Once they realise what's wrong with me, I'm going to be locked up, probably for good." She said matter-of-factly, but he caught the look of depression that settled on her face, before she could get rid of it.
"Is that what you think?" He reached around her with his non-tool hand and stroked it up and down her back. "Not going to happen. You're not insane, Shepard. Just mentally injured."
"I've pointed a gun at you, completely unprovoked." Her voice turned wry, and she looked away. "More than once."
"And I've been able to talk you down. You're not going to be locked away. Wherever you get your therapy, I will be right there with you. I promise."
She stared at some point to his left, until he brought his hand up and turned her face back, and sought out eye contact.
"Is that what you're really afraid of, Shepard?" He asked. He was entirely unsurprised when she shook her head. "Then what?"
"Kaidan, please, don't ask that." Nearly pleading again. But she was talking. She was answering him. He steeled himself, and kept his voice gentle, but firm. He'd heard her convince frightened, uncertain people to do exactly what she wanted, and spent years learning her techniques.
"Shepard. I'm going to help you." He held up the omni-tool, where the document still blinked at her. "With this, I'm going to be able to. All you have to do is sign. I won't let you be locked away, I won't abandon you. Please, tell me what it is you're afraid of."
She looked straight at him. "You'll hate me."
"...what?" She might as well have thrown a cold bucket on him. "Why? How do you... what make you think that?" He groped for something to make sense of her statement. Her face looked nearly carved from granite.
Nearly. And she was dead serious.
"You'll hate me. I'm a security risk, Kaidan. You love me, you don't want to hurt me, and you would have to. You wouldn't have a choice."
"Shepard. You have PTSD," and probably suffer from a psychosis, the paranoid delusion variety, he didn't add, "but that won't make me suddenly hate you, pointed gun or not, and you know it. Why would you think that?"
Shepard drew a finger through his beard, in a way that he would've found impossibly erotic, had the situation been any less catastrophic. When she spoke, it was calm, measured tones, almost as if she was reciting something. "The Reapers punched a hole in my mind. They tried to indoctrinate me. I wasn't... I don't think I was. Not completely."
"You weren't." Kaidan said, fishing about for the one thing that was making sense. That, he was certain of. But Shepard shook her head.
"Not completely, but they did the damage. Little things over a few short encounters to make me susceptible. Then when Harbinger's beam hit us, it tore a hole straight through my mind, and, and the thing up on the Citadel finished the job, and it's still there. It's not doing anything, not saying anything. But I still feel the hooks and the hollows, the places where the voices would go."
Kaidan closed his eyes, forced himself to work air into his lungs. Opened his eyes and took Shepard's head between his hands. "You, are not indoctrinated."
Maybe he held a little to hard, because he saw his fingertips sink into her skin. She didn't flinch though, just regarded him sadly. "How do you know that?"
Oh, yeah. Reasonable question. Think, Alenko. He distracted her by stealing a short kiss from her lips. She let him, but regarded him with that expression that said she would very much like an answer to that question. He let go of her face and caressed the finger-marks with an apologetic smile.
"Because of Saren, and the Illusive Man."
He had her attention. "What about them?"
"I was there, when you talked to Saren. Both by the bomb, and when you talked him into killing himself." They hadn't talked about this much. Losing Ashley had been one of the defining moments of Shepard's career, and her life. And to Kaidan, the whole thing just hurt. But this was important. "He didn't realise he was indoctrinated until you shoved the evidence in his face. That's what broke through to him. And... and from what you told us about the Illusive Man, same thing happened then." They hadn't talked about that either, but Kaidan had sat in when she'd given her mission report. Such as it was. She'd been high on painkillers for days after the beam, and still was by the time Hackett decided the debriefing couldn't wait any longer. But the parts about her encounter with 'TIM' had been clearer than the rest.
"From what you said about that encounter, he didn't realise he was indoctrinated either, not until you pointed it out to him. You had to convince them both." He paused for emphasis. "But here I am, and I'm arguing the exact opposite. That you're not indoctrinated. Doesn't it make sense to you, that if you were indoctrinated, you wouldn't realise it? But I would, because I'm the person who spends the most time with you. And I'm pretty good at noticing little details like that."
"Even when I'm pointing a gun at you?" She asked, genuinely honest. Her shoulders had relaxed as he spoke. Her body melded to his as she softened. His own body was moderately interested, at least the parts that weren't complaining about sitting on cold tiles in the cramped bathroom.
He smiled calmingly. "Yes, even then."
Her hands plucked at his shoulders. She was quiet again, and he didn't push. He could tell she was working things over in her mind.
"Kaidan, a question?"
Shepard turned without moving from his lap, and looked out in the hallway, where the gun laid on the floor where she had dropped it.
"You asked me once, if I would have shot you if I thought I had to."
His smile turned into a bit of a grin. "And as I recall, you said yes."
"And I meant it." Shepard leaned forward and kissed the corner of his lips. "But I still love you."
"Good to know." And if he was a bit sarcastic when he said that, oh well. "What's your question?"
"If you thought I was indoctrinated, would you convince me to shoot myself? Or kill me?"
Kaidan felt he should have seen that coming. He sighed, his hand travelling back down her spine. With her comfortably in his lap, there was no physical way out of this conversation, and with her mental health on the line, he couldn't think of a decent reason not to answer, either.
Besides, he didn't have to fake. He knew what she wanted to hear, and he had thought the thought. Hadn't been able to not think it. "If I believed you were a threat? Not just to myself, but to other people? Yeah. Yeah I would kill you. As a last resort."
And would you believe it, she actually smiled. He swore he saw some pride among all the relief on her face. "How about we trade?" She asked. "I'll sign that document of yours, if you promise to shoot me, if... if it turns out that I'm right."
He decided. It was the only thing he could do. The standstill, the nightmares, the gun, it all came to this. "I promise." He held up the omni-tool, with the legal document still blinking, ready to be signed. Shepard looked at him, really looked. Kaidan nodded encouragingly.
She took a breath, then touched the holographic interface, signing it with trembling fingers.
He kissed her. Now, it was time to start the healing.